April 11, 2011


By Sam Hammond
From People's Voice.

Since 1956 and the formation of the Canadian Labour Congress, the labour movement and the society we live in has changed dramatically. CLC affiliate representation has grown from 1 million to 3 million workers, but the percentage of the working class organized has dropped, and public sector unions now represent the majority of union members.

The cold war, McCarthyism, the attack on left class struggle trade‑unionism, and the escalating barbarity of world imperialism are also part of the transition from 1956 to 2011. The socialist alternative has largely been abandoned by trade union leaders who don't see any real alternative to capitalism.

Because of this lack of an alternative vision to fight for, the main tactical and ideological response of trade unions in the industrialized states has been defense at best, and capitulation at worst.

The dominant leadership of social democratic reformism and compliance was the purpose of the state sponsored attacks and witch hunts against the left in the past. The attack on left ideology, with its dedication to mass recruiting, was a blow to trade union democracy and the organizational model which made grass roots involvement primary. Conversely, the vacuum created was a stimulant to the development of "business trade unionism", where perpetuation of the organization and concentration primarily on only the economic welfare of its members. This created a "tunnel vision" that obscured responsibility to the entire working class and a future permanent solution to its exploitation.

This "tunnel vision" will in time become the main threat to the existence of organized labour. The replacement of a class perspective with the narrow parameters of "our organization" and "our members" stimulated sectarianism and organizing outside of sectors to capture new members and widen the economic base. The inevitable result was organizing in other unions' sectors, and raiding other unions for members who already had established contracts. The success of organizing outside of traditional sectors has created organizations that resemble multi‑sector "mini" labour centres.

The structural reforms being proposed to the CLC Convention this May are a reflection of the evolution of the Congress from its creation in 1956 to the present, and of the trade union movement in general. The CLC has evolved from a central organization of almost exclusively private sector industrial, extraction, resource and transportation unions, to a central organization of private and public sector unions. The public sector unions are dramatically more highly organized in their sectors, while the multi‑sector mini labour centrals of the private sector are threatened with serious problems.

The CLC has also evolved from a delegate-driven convention, with nominations and elections from the floor, to a delegate- controlled and caucus-driven creature of the large affiliates. Remember Carol Wall, who ran for president against Ken Georgetti in 2005, but was not allowed to address the convention delegates and was shut out of most caucuses. Even so, the delegates gave her 37 percent of the votes.

The structural changes that will be presented, and approved, at the May 2011 Convention have been formulated by a Commission on Structural Review mandated from the last convention. The Commission was comprised of three CLC Officers, and eleven of the larger affiliates. Of these, six are private sector and five are public sector unions, although it should be pointed out that most have at least some private and public sector members.

The recommended governance will be a modification of the present, but radically different from the founding structure. The main body between conventions, the "Canadian Council", will have four "elected at convention" officers (President, Secretary Treasurer, two Vice-Presidents), 52 Vice-Presidents who will be ranking officers of affiliates, 10 Vice-Presidents who will be women from the five largest private and public sector unions, 12 Vice-Presidents from Provincial and Territorial Federations, five members elected from Convention equity caucuses, one youth Vice-President from convention caucus, and one retiree from CURC. This adds up to a council of 85 members who will meet "at least" twice a year. The 52 VPs from affiliates will be the "ranking officers". Only four positions on the Canadian Council will be elected at convention directly by delegates. All others will be designated either from affiliates or caucuses. There will be no Labour Council representative on the Canadian Council, or anywhere else in the leadership.

The Executive Committee will be structured as follows and drawn from the Canadian Council: the four Executive Officers; Vice-Presidents from the five largest public and private sector unions (total 10); one VP from the largest building trades union; one woman from each of the private and public sectors, chosen by the Canadian Council (2); one equity VP chosen by Canadian Council; one VP from a union not in the ten largest, chosen by the Canadian Council and the President of the Quebec Federation of Labour. This adds up to an Executive Council of 20.

The National Campaign Committee will be the Executive Committee, plus the twelve Presidents of Provincial and Territorial Federations.

This is the opening refrain of the swan song of the democratic rank and file convention. This recommendation has already been accepted and recommended through the participation on the Commission of the ranking officers of the largest affiliated unions, with the exception of CUPW. Their delegates will go with instructions to support. Debate will be only about timing or application. If the Canadian Council is a done deal, the rest follows suit.

The Canadian Council will be a permanent affiliate-controlled governance, with the exception of four Officers, five equity VPs, and one Youth VP. The Commission recommends in two places that the Canadian Council should function as a "Forum". Not exactly the same as a governing body carrying out convention decisions, is it? Of its 85 members, 75 will be chosen outside of convention. The Canadian Council will be a body of professional trade unionists who only have to meet twice a year as a forum of discussion.

The Executive Committee, the body that will really govern the CLC, will meet four times a year and has only four elected officers.

The proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. It would be very immature to consider these proposals as purely structural. In any sane world, structure should be the instrument of purpose, yet these changes are going to be implemented without any indication of purpose whatsoever. Any observation of the CLC performance during the economic crisis, and especially the latest stroking of the Tory Budget on the eve of an election, would lead one to conclude that the structural changes are to entrench this ideology of non-struggle. After all, unfortunately, this is the status quo.

With convention resolutions getting merged into watery nothings, 75 of 85 of Canadian Council members appointed outside convention, the Executive Committee chosen exclusively by the Canadian Council, the National Campaign Committee another rubber stamp, and a complete shut‑out of the grassroots Labour Councils, what is left for delegates? What is left of the Convention?

There is little reason to believe that cash-strapped locals and Labour Councils will be willing to spend $2-3000 to send delegates to a convention of disappeared resolutions, guest speakers and cultural entertainment. This is a very grave threat to the future of Canadian trade union democracy.

(The above article is from the April 1-15, 2011, issue of People's Voice, Canada's leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited. Subscription rates in Canada: $30/year, or $15 low income rate; for U.S. readers - $45 US per year; other overseas readers - $45 US or $50 CDN per year. Send to People's Voice, c/o PV Business Manager, 706 Clark Drive, Vancouver, BC, V5L 3J1.)

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